Elizabeth Strout’s novels are generally beloved, as is Laura Linney, so combining the two was a logical choice for adapter Rona Munro and director Richard Eyre. However, the production of “My Name is Lucy Barton” at the Manhattan Theatre Club’s Friedman Theatre (a transfer from London), seems to be lacking. It has several great elements, including an emotional story and a phenomenal actress, and yet it never really soars.
Munro’s adaptation is a rather straightforward translation of the novel, which was written in first person and almost begging to become a monologue. In it, Lucy tells about a recent extended stay she had in a hospital and an unexpected visit she had from her estranged mother. Throughout the hour and half, Lucy’s narrative fades through various times in her life, gently moving from the strained hospital conversations with her mom to her childhood of poverty and abuse. The ebb and flow of these temporal shifts feel like waves moving us through Lucy’s life. That being said, the way her narrative spirals around memories feels more literary than dramatic.
The non-linear nature of this piece makes it come across almost as the forgotten third portion of last season’s “Sea Wall / A Life,” which featured two actors each telling a one-act story about their life, often in a ways that eschew traditional timelines. In “Sea Wall,” “A Life,” and “My Name is Lucy Barton” the audience is teased with small bits of information that we must piece together as the narrators tell their story less as a coherent whole and more as a loose collections of memories, where they flit and jump around based on the path of their reverie.
Although the comparison is certainly apt, “My Name is Lucy Barton” is not nearly as successful as last season’s similar iteration. Part of what made “Sea Wall / A Life” so moving was its stripped back simplicity. In an unexpected and bizarre twist, “My Name is Lucy Barton” is over designed and under-directed. The set by Bob Crowley logically featured a hospital bed but was backed by three projection screens that featured cheesy versions of a hospital window view of the New York City skyline, a corn field, a West Village street, a tree, and other cliche, barely-better-than-clip-art images/videos that coincided with the narrative (Luke Halls designed the trite videos). The…